7 Days on the Road to 26.2 Recovery
by: Julie Stackhouse
There is nothing like the home stretch to the finish line in a marathon: the sea of bright pink from which smiling faces emerge cheering you on as they realize the first female marathoner is making her way down the chute, hands outstretched to high-five their victress, the ringing of cowbell reminding me of my western North Carolina roots (cowbell, not banjo), the taste like sea on your lips, the thud of your heart pounding out a rhythm in your chest willing your feet to follow, the moment that you pinch yourself to realize you are not dreaming and this day that you’ve been envisioning for the past several months is finally here, in short pure finish line bliss, a.k.a. “runner’s high…”
Lights flash, camera lenses wink and momentarily someone wraps you in a space blanket, adorning your neck in golden heart-shaped bling, adrenaline coursing through your Popeye veins. And then? You look for your family and friends just outside the finish line corral only to realize the pavement has turned to quicksand. What just moments ago was easy is now a monumental task – forget that post-race cool-down, your legs are stay-puffed marshmallows and your hip flexors are screaming louder than the cowbell still ringing in your ears. Then you realize that despite your shiny blanket shawl and the sun smiling down on your moistened skin you. are. freezing!
With muscles tensing, my saviors were the beautiful and welcoming faces inside the Cora tent as I hobbled into the well-organized runner’s village. I hoisted myself onto the massage table with the little strength I had remaining and sipped on 5-star hot chicken noodle soup (mmm sodium), while the days of healing/recovery were already beginning. In the week that followed I made recovery my new “training” mission, for as much as the victory tasted so sweet, the eminent clock of the Gate River Run was already ticking…
- Astym – Astym (A-stim) is a type of therapy that uses a series of hard tools (they only look torturous, don’t judge until you’ve tried it) to help regenerate soft-tissues (muscles, tendons, etc.), and removes unwanted scar tissue that may be causing pain or movement restrictions. Cora Health & Rehabilitation specializes in Astym therapy and they were at the finish line offering their time and services for free, to help ailing runners. Me? This is only my second time trying Astym, both times as a means of injury-prevention. I had the professionals flush out my hamstrings and calves with both the Astym and light massage therapy. A few active-assisted hip stretches were essential as well. I emerged from the table no longer a decrepit turtle but a marathon goddess, again able to walk around to enjoy the post-race festivities.
- NormaTec boots – The NormaTec PULSE Recovery Systems are dynamic compression devices designed for recovery and rehab. The idea behind the patented PULSE technology is to aid athletes in recovering faster between training sessions and after competitions. Compressed air massages the legs and mobilizes fluids. Personally, I LOVE the boots. This was also my second time using them and I am a believer. I used the boots that evening following the marathon (while sipping a celebratory pink bubbly) and again the next morning for about 15 minutes each time. My massage therapist provides the NormaTec boots for a nominal fee to his usual services, as purchasing a unit for yourself can be quite costly.
- Massage therapy – If I had to rank my favorite recovery method, this is it, hands down (and all over my aching muscles)! I don’t like the typical “feel good” Swedish, relaxing spa frou-frou massage. This is why I decided to wait a few days post-race until my muscles weren’t too tender to touch. I prefer sports massage, where my trusted masseuse of 10 years can work out knots that have developed from the daily rigors of pounding. Did you know that each time your foot strikes pavement it is like single-leg squatting roughly two times your own body weight? I routinely schedule Thomas Moody (Performance Sports Massage), who works with elite athletes on a daily basis, from Olympic hopeful track stars to NFL players.
- Cryotherapy – Cry-O! No, it really wasn’t that bad at all. I am averse to being cold which is why I live in Florida; however, Cryotherapy was actually really cool (pun intended). In the several days following the marathon and 13-minute PR, I was willing to try anything. A friend of mine and I went together to Outlast Cryotherapy, the only chamber in North Florida, for moral support. Because I’m such a good friend, I even let her go first. It only takes 3 minutes to help undo the damage and inflammation caused by a race nearly 3 hours in duration. Yet, somehow those three minutes can seem longer at temperatures in the “dry-ice-like” octagonal chamber reaching nearly minus 295 degrees Fahrenheit during the session. Think whole-body ice bath on steroids and you don’t even have to get wet. You are encouraged to shed your clothing for optimal effect. They give you warm gloves and booties for your extremities. I recommend playing your favorite 3-minute song and doing a little dance inside the chamber to pass the time.
- Magnesium salts – You may be more familiar with the Epsom salt bath, taking its name from a bitter saline spring in Epsom in Surrey, England, where the salt was produced from the springs that arise, a remedy known for its potential healing of sore muscles. Little side note for runners like me with a brown thumb: gardeners use it to improve crops/flowers. Epsom salt baths have been a routine part of my training so I was thrilled when a fellow Ironman and doctor friend of mine introduced me to Life-Flo Pure Magnesium Oil. You can just spray it on, let it dry briefly and go about your day. You experience a little tingle that lets you know it is working without being the offensive Bengay skunk in the office all day.
- Raindrop Technique – This is a powerful technique using essential oils that combines several modalities to bring balance and transformation. It involves applying therapeutic grade essential oils to the spine, neck and feet. The session lasts about an hour; however, the claim is that the benefits may last up to a week or more. The three modalities that combine to form Raindrop Technique are aromatherapy, vita flex technique and “feather stroking.” My friend and fellow track club member, Michelle Spires, is a professional and very passionate about her practices. She knew I was a newbie to any types of treatments of this nature, so she walked me through everything she was doing, step-by-step. It was so relaxing that I nearly fell asleep on the massage table several times, which she encourages as a means of relaxing and restoring the entire body.
- Yoga – Ohmmmm…I will admit that I can be a runner who doesn’t slow down enough to include an important hour of stretching into my weekly routine. Now that the marathon is over and I don’t have to spend every Sunday running for hours, I plan to do just that! Each week Lululemon offers a free, (yes FREE) yoga class on Sunday mornings from 9:30-10:30am. It’s really great because you get to experience the teachings and expertise of yoga instructors from all over the Jacksonville area. My favorite style typically is more the Vinyasa “athletic-style” flow, as I can really feel it strengthening and toning my muscles, and can even work up a little sweat. This particular week it happened to be a more relaxed style yoga, which was actually quite perfect! I left the session feeling renewed, refreshed and ready for the week ahead! My one note of caution here would be that if it is part of your routine to run first and then go to yoga (especially warm or hot yoga), that you hydrate really well post-run and during the session, so as not to damage your muscle tissues by over-stretching in a dehydrated state.
*Bonus tip – Compression gear – This is an ongoing recovery method for me. Last week during our weekly track training group session, 2XU provided wear testing for all of the athletes. These were the compression calf-sleeve variety but I love the full compression socks. I also have a form of compression gear wherein you slide thin ice packets into the sleeves (110%). I wear compression socks when I’m traveling on a long flight, during all of my long runs or workouts in the winter months and the day after a race, all day.
*Bonus Tip #2 – 100% Tart Cherry Juice – At the first Cora Healthy Happy Hour of 2016, I learned from expert Dr. Stephan Esser (Esser Health) about the benefits of tart cherry or 100% pomegranate juice for recovery. On my next trip to TJ’s a grabbed a bottle of the tart berries in liquid form and even though I don’t really like cherries or cherry flavoring I must say I think it helped!
*Bonus Tip #3 – Foam Roller/Trigger Point – This is how I roll, several times a week and often with the athletes I coach. For more information, to learn how you can do self-massage at home utilizing this technique and to obtain your own foam roller, check out the Trigger Point Workshop at Jacksonville Running Company, Friday March 4th at the Tapestry Park location, 6:30pm.
The bottom line with each of these methods, both innovative and time-tested is that if you think it works, it probably does. Recover well, my friends! See you soon on the parade through downtown towards the Hart of one of my favorite races!
About the Author:
Julie Stackhouse, owner of Stackhouse Fitness (getstackednow.com) and Performance Running Coach (jaxrun.com) was the 2016 female overall winner of the Donna 26.2 to Finish Breast Cancer, finishing 3rd overall amongst the male competitors. She is the only Jacksonville woman to ever win the marathon, and the only person to win both the half and the full in consecutive years at this event. Her time of 2:53.17 established a record on the new course (sans beach).